Saturday, August 6, 2011

A trip to Louis Land

Today Courtney and I went to Louis Land, also known as Versailles, the home of the French monarchy before the French Revolution came along and crashed the party.  Talking to Jackie the other day, I jestingly referred to Versailles as a French Royal Disney World, which turned out to be fairly apropos.  You head outside of town, pony up alot of cash, stand in alot of lines, and when it rains, you can buy a giant yellow poncho with Louis XIV on it.  I desperately wish that last bit was true, but alas, it is not.  While you can buy a number of things with Louis on it, a poncho is sadly not one of them.  While this sort of thing might rub you the wrong way, for being "touristy" or perhaps "exploitative," be comforted in the fact that Versailles has been putting Louis' face on things for years, so we are just replacing divine right monarchism with commercialism.  At any rate, I feel certain that if Louis XIV was going to have tourists walking around his palace, he would have liked them wearing ponchos with his face on them.  

While there is alot of Louis around, my favorite must be Bernini's bust of the Sun King.  Not only can Bernini really work some marble, but I really prefer my drapery to be described as "gravity-defying."  I have long desired to see this particular bust, as Bernini is not only fairly awesome in general, but I have always found this bust to be especially spectacular.

17th-century big hair.
While this next work has no specific purchase on my dissertation, it does figure in the history of public commemoration in France, which makes it of viable interest to me.  In addition to that, it is also quite large, epic, and strange.  I had no idea this work was in Versailles, so I was pleasantly surprised to turn a corner and find this bronze behemoth in a stairwell.  I was also under the impression that the bronze cast was fairly diminutive, so it was pretty fun to find it was the size of a small mountain.

Big, giant, bronze thingy.
Better yet, this work was actually intended to be the size of an actual small mountain.  Originally, it was supposed to be a large-scale monument to great French authors.  Sculptural commemoration was still being worked out in the 17th-century, so the idea was to have sculptures of French authors hanging out on a 60-foot bronze rendering of Mount Parnassus as to symbolize their literary greatness.  The monetary and technical drawbacks to casting this sort of thing proved prohibitive (even for the culture that gave us a giant gold palace), so the project fell through.

As nice as it is seeing things that I've researched, like many academic dropouts, I strongly prefer teaching to researching, so I get perhaps the most excitement from seeing things that I have taught.  Teaching the same objects for years means that you acquire a deep and intimate familiarity with them, even though you have often never actually seen them in person.  My experience coming across such a work for the first time is often characterized by a feeling of profound recognition mixed with the strangeness and wonder that something so familiar could also feel so new.  There is a gap between the image of something and the thing itself, and the experience in that gap is always interesting, and often very beautiful.

The famous Galerie des Glaces.  Here, glaces means mirrors, not ice cream.
When teaching Versailles, art historians tend to show the most famous room, the Gallery of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces), a long hallway stretching across the back of the palace.  One side of the hallway is lined with windows, the other with mirrors, so the the manicured gardens and fountains of the palace are reflected in the chandelier filled corridor.  It is one thing to see a photo of the room--photos are always incomplete, partial, and can't even begin to capture the real tangibility and grandeur of the space--and it is another thing entirely to walk down that hallway, and see how the palace unfolds from the Gallery in every direction.

Actually traversing the palace and grounds of Versailles has made the palace more clear and legible in my mind than I could ever accomplish with any amount of images and texts.  Before, Versailles has always felt rather difficult to teach.  Architecture is often tricky, and particularly when it is so incredibly vast.  As a result, I end up just showing a couple of semi-random images, and saying something like, "MAN they had some serious money.  So they got guillotined.  Let's move on to that, shall we?"  (Note that this version also discards the entire 18th century, which has been known to happen in my version of French art history). 

There were alot of reasons to overthrow the French monarchy, the egregiously expensive palace being just one of them, but the thing that brought it home for me was not the ostentation of the palace, but rather the charming little hamlet Marie-Antoinette built for herself in the late 18th century.  A fun little art historical tidbit is that Marie-Antoinette got so tired and bored of royal life, that she would leave the court for a bit in order to go play shepherdess. 

Where Marie-Antoinette went to relax.
When the French royalty did something though, they went all out.  Marie-Antoinette did not just put on a cute dress and play with some sheep, nor did she just have a little cottage somewhere.  No, no--she built herself her own village in a corner of Versailles.  A village.  Completely equipped with all the normal things a village has--houses, a mill, farmhouse, dairy, gardens, orchards, ponds, boudoir, pigeon coop, dovecote, and a tower.  Everything is ridiculously, absurdly charming--the sort of place we might imagine fairy tales and animated movies to take place.  I can't help but wonder if Marie-Antoinette ever realized that the people she ruled over did not live like this, or if, in all seriousness, she truly believed that the French people lived in a quaint rustic countryside where the flowers always bloom, the sheep are always fluffy, and there is always cake for dinner. 

French sheep in the "country" side.
Many elements of the hamlet were functional during Marie-Antoinette's time (except the mill, which turned only for decorative purposes), so today, cows, goats, and sheep still populate the farm as they did in the queen's day.  While these are not the only sheep I've seen on my travels, they are certainly the only ones whose ancestors might just have gotten milked by a queen brandishing custom-made Sèvres porcelain buckets.  These sheep might not be quite so posh, but if you're lucky, you might just be able to find a nice Sèvres bucket coffee cup at the gift shop.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Sculptors

Living abroad alternates wildly between "OH MY GOD.  This is all so amazing!!  Look, it's the Eiffel Tower!!!!  Look, it's the Louvre!!!  Oh my God, I am so lucky to be here!!!!!!" and, sometimes in the very next breath even, "What am I doing here?!  I can't understand anyone!!!  I am alone!!!!  I have no idea what I'm doing!!! I want to go hoooooooome."  The first sentiment is accompanied by giddily gallivanting about the city, the second is accompanied mostly by weeping.

Basically an equestrian monument.  But with a corpse.
When you find your time dominated by the latter, I find one of the best remedies is to go gallivanting about the city until the former feeling kicks back in.  After a few days of struggling with the language, the research, and all the rest of it, I therefore decided to get out for a bit.  I wandered down to Montparnasse, where I started my journey with the Montparnasse Cemetery.  Because, you know, when you need a lift, the best place to go is a graveyard.

The two best places to look at alot of public sculpture in one area are parks and cemeteries.  I've already gone to Paris' other great cemeteries--Père Lachaise and Montmartre--where Jay and I tracked down some works by Dalou, as well as other funerary sculptures and graves of noteworthy personages (In addition to being a great place to cheer up, apparently I think graveyards are also a great place to take a date.  What is wrong with me?)  Public monuments are often forced to be rather restrained--commissioners tend to be nervous about spending a lot of money on overly radical or creative works that might prove too offensive for a public place.  Funerary sculpture, however, tends to be much more creative (perhaps because the patron is already dead...?)  At any rate, many really great sculptors during the nineteenth century provided good and interesting works to cemeteries, which makes them a really interesting place for me.

Some of Degas' favorite things.
In addition to seeing a bunch of sculpture, it is indeed a bit of a thrill to go and track down the graves of famous people, which for me primarily means artists.  When Jay and I wandered through the Montmartre Cemetery, I jokingly told him to keep an eye out for the grave of Edgar Degas, who I knew was buried there, but wasn't willing to track down that particular afternoon.  When Jay did find Degas' grave, I was so overwhelmed by glee that I was inspired to do as several wellwishers did before me, which was to leave him a thank you note.  Degas was actually kind of a misanthropic jackass who would probably be more horrified by the painful artistic incompetencies of my note rather than touched by its sentiment.  However, Degas was a remarkably brilliant artist, and as such, I will forgive him for having such a prickly personality.  I must admit that I am terribly inconsistent with this type of judgement, as I am more than ready to condemn Paul Gauguin for his character flaws, but that is mostly because I can't stand his painting.

As it happens,  Jules Dalou was actually a pretty good guy, and in addition to liking his art quite a bit (not a necessary corollary for writing a dissertation about someone) I actually have a good deal of fondness for him (even less a corollary for writing a dissertation about someone).  And that is the primary reason I trekked down to Montparnasse--to go visit the grave of Jules Dalou.

Who left the flowers?!  Ancestor?  Fan?  My rival Dalou scholar?!?
Dalou's bust of his daughter.
By the time of his death, Dalou was no longer particularly famous, had never been particularly wealthy, and was not the sort of man to choose a grandiose tomb for himself.  He is buried, as stated on the tomb, with his wife Irma, and his daughter Georgette.  When Dalou died, some years after his wife, he bequeathed his works in such a way that their sales would provide for the care of his daughter, whose severe mental handicap precluded her from ever living by herself or marrying.  He also made a number of stipulations for her care--that she should have a private room and her own spending money--extravagant measures at that time for someone with Georgette's condition.  Until this time, Dalou had done little to market the bronze casts of his smaller, more domestic works, preferring instead to focus his attention on large public monuments.  The sculptor only accepted works celebrating men or ideas that he admired, sometimes even refusing payment for work on monuments that particularly inspired him.  Dalou's own political ideals forced him into exile.  After the fall of the Commune, Dalou spent nine years in England, where he taught sculpture, mostly through gesture as he only spoke French, to a horde of young English artists who benefited greatly by having a superbly trained French sculptor in their midst.  When Dalou returned to France, he dedicated himself to monuments to the French republic, and ideals of liberté, egalité, and fraternité--particularly for the working-class laborers from which he came.  Basically, when it comes down to it, old Jules seems like he must have been a pretty decent guy.  At least as good, if not better, than the grands hommes (great men) he spent his life commemorating.

On my way to the Montparnasse Cemetery to see Dalou's final resting place, I walked by a statue of a grand homme by another grand homme--Dalou's friend and rival Auguste Rodin. 

Rodin's Monument to Balzac.  This particular cast is on Boulevard Raspail,
My absolute favorite way to explain my dissertation is through the following dialogue:

Vaguely interested party:  "What are you writing your dissertation on?"
Me:  "Do you know who Rodin is?  He did The Thinker, The Kiss. . . "
Rapt and attentive listener:  "OH YEAH!"
Me:  "Well, I'm not writing on him.  I'm writing about the other guy.  The second most famous sculptor in France at the end of the nineteenth century."
No longer at all rapt and completely inattentive listener:  "Oh."

Actually, I almost chose to write my dissertation on Rodin.  I wrote my very first sculpture paper on some early artistic photography of Rodin's sculpture.  I then wrote one of my master's theses on Rodin's Balzac.  I was well on my way to writing the whole damn thing on Rodin when my advisor (thankfully) talked me into Dalou, primarily on the strength of his Triumph to the Republic

I remain interested to see Rodin's works, as they remind me of my first serious and engaged encounter with sculpture.  Numerous bronze casts of the Balzac exist, so I've actually seen this work a couple of times--the MOMA in New York, the Rodin Museum in Paris, various smaller casts elsewhere.  I was particularly pleased to see this Balzac though, because it is relatively rare to see Rodin's works actually installed as public monuments.  It isn't that Rodin didn't make public monuments, it is just that they were most often rejected.  This work created an awful scandal when it was first exhibited as a plaster cast in 1898, so Rodin hid it in his garden.  Only years after the artist's death did Paris put the much-maligned work in a public place.

Often, it is difficult to wrap our brains and eyes around why people once found famously scandalous works offensive.  But even for me now, there is something distinctly odd about seeing one of Rodin's works plopped into the middle of the street.  His works seem to me too private, too expressively and almost histrionically emotional that setting one out in a public square feels like the sculptural equivalent of taking all your clothes off and running into the street screaming hysterically.

There is a nice bit, in an article by Albert Elsen about Rodin, where he says something along the lines of Rodin's gestures not coming from nature.  I always found the dramatic, and sometimes rather overdone, otherworldliness of early photographs of Rodin's work to be the best setting for his work--divorced from nature, the real world, and instead placed into a purely expressive and evocative aesthetic space that seems to unfold more from the sculpture itself, rather than just acting as background.

Edward Steichen's tarted up artsy photograph of the Balzac.
I can't imagine a photographer effectively giving this treatment to a Dalou work, and that is a good part of what I like about him.  Dalou's works are too grounded, too connected with the real space in which they exist, and to the real ideologies and people they represent.  Dalou's sculptures would lose some of their meaning if they were stuck out in a garden someplace for some photographer to take some fancy photos of. 

Me and 42 tons of bronze.
Dalou's Triumph of the Republic is in the Place de la Nation, a neighborhood that was deeply working-class when the sculpture was erected, and still not the nicest place to visit in Paris today.  The sculpture is covered in graffiti, littered with broken glass and confetti, and usually surrounded by people lounging, drinking, and making out.  The first time I was there, a guy repeatedly kept hitting on me, and the second time I was there, a guy insisted on making lewd comments about some putti private parts.

Here's the thing though.  The sculpture needs people around it.  And more than that, it can't help but draw people to it, even if they are just drinking and screwing around, rather than being inspired to democratic and patriotic ideals, or at least doing some insightful art criticism and interpretation.  Jules Dalou, mostly because he was that nice and idealistic guy, really believed that he was making sculptures that did something important for people--that brought them together and helped them think great thoughts.  Now, that is undoubtedly a whole bunch of idealistic bullshit, but I can't help but think it is pretty nice anyway.  And that is why I'm kinda glad to be studying the guy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Some Parc Monceau, some Colonne Vendôme

Yesterday did not get off to an auspicious start.  After searching fruitlessly for one last Dalou sculpture, I got tired of both finding nothing and getting rained on, so I came home to try to refine a more precise location.  Turns out, within the past several years, the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers has moved the sculpture to a different location.  Not only that, it has been moved to a Parisian suburb known less for fine art, and more for its unusually high crime.  Le sigh.

Not ready to tackle a crime-ridden Parisian banlieu (suburb) quite yet, I took the metro out to see a sculpture just east of the Arc de Triomphe. From the moment I walked up from the metro and saw the precise work I was looking for, my day took a serious turn for the better.  Gustave Doré's Monument to Alexander Dumas is one of my favorites, not least because a fantastically dashing figure of D'Artagnan is perched on the back.
Like Puss in Boots, without the mice necklace.
 By this point, I have developed a certain routine for photographing monuments, in order to ensure I don't miss anything.  I circle the work a couple of times, taking numerous photos from each angle (n, ne, e. etc. etc.), and then work increasingly closer to the monument so that I get both overall and detail shots of the work.  It must look just different enough from normal tourist behavior to elicit notice, because numerous strangers have stopped to talk to me about the sculptures.  When Jay and I came across the Waldeck-Rousseau in the Tuileries, a man there assured me the work was Socialist because it included a figure of a laborer (he was not too far from the truth).  Yesterday, as I was looking at another sculpture in the Place du Général Catroux, a guy from Liberia sporting some truly magnificent dreadlocks stopped me to ask why I thought the sculpture was good.  This prompted a long conversation about art and impermanence in both France and Africa, conducted partly in French, partly in English.  He said he missed his home, but couldn't go back, because he has a French woman now, so he can't leave.  I told him I have an American man, so I can't stay. 

After telling my new Liberian friend to check out the sculpture with D'Artagnan on it, I made the short walk to nearby Parc Monceau.  I love Parisian parks in general, but this one might have jumped to the top of the list.  It has tons of sculpture, a rose garden, a carousel, a stand selling crepes and ice cream, a children's playground (with its own special mini bathroom), space for rollerblading, a loud and strange prayer group, random ruined arches, a weird pyramidal building of some sort, and even ponies.

Ponies, from left to right:  Pierre, Jean-Claude, and Bill.
 I sat and ate a nutella crepe while watching the literary-themed carousel take a few turns.  My vote for "best carousel in Paris" is now torn between this carousel that featured Le Petit Prince's airplane and a submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the carousel in Jardin de Plantes which is populated by prehistoric creatures.  The sculpture to the left of the carousel in the photo was just the first of many relevant works inhabiting the park--some of which I knew about, but several that were pleasant surprises.  While checking them out, I experienced some revelatory thoughts that (fingers crossed) I hope are semi-new, and will provide some fodder for the dissertation.  Time will tell.

Sculpture to left, submarine to right.
After exhausting the sculptural possibilities of the Parc Monceau, I made the rather long and exhausting walk home.  I took a side route to see the Vendôme Column, which is one of those enormous things that I have managed to come within blocks of numerous times over the course of the past several weeks, without ever actually seeing.  It is pretty nice, and you can buy a Rolex there.

Napoleon was very short, his column is very big. Insert joke here.
As you might have guessed from the last paragraph the Vendôme Column is in a neighborhood that might be called "ritzy" or perhaps "obscenely out of my league."  The Vendôme is downtown, by the Louvre and the Madeleine, where luxury stores are lined up one after each other.  I foolishly stopped in a fabulous little shop that had nothing but things for one's hair.  I picked up a hair stick, found it was 45 euros, then stopped touching things.  As this shop was next door to a place that sells furs, I shouldn't have been surprised.  My favorite example of Parisian shopping extravagance must be this:

The "slumming it" of Parisian shopping.
Please note two facts about this photograph.  1)  The Soldes feature several progressively deeper markdowns so this is the third, deeply discounted final sale price and 2) With the current conversion rate, 50 euros = $71.83.  Hurry up!!!!  Buy a stack of these super-sale t-shirts for just $71.83 a piece!  Also--this shop is obviously on the low end, as it features not just stacks of shirts (as opposed to one shirt a fixture, luxuriantly spaced out across the floor) but also a hastily printed out sale sign.  And ... 50 euros for a t-shirt???  What. a. steal.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Best. Purchase. Ever.

I now own a Sarah Connor jacket.  SCORE.

For the short time that Terminator:  The Sarah Connor Chronicles were on tv, I was majorly hooked.  Not only did it feature some seriously awesome characters, not only did it have a riveting plot that kept me compulsively coming back every week, not only did it have logic-bending approaches to time, space, and narrative, not only did it have Summer Glau from Firefly, but it also had really, really great jackets.

How I coveted a Sarah Connor jacket.  Waist-length, form-fitting, dark-colored, and with many pockets and zippers (you know, to keep your cell phone, house keys, handgun, ammo, bits of futuristic technology, etc. etc.). 

I'm not much of a shopper, and I don't earn alot of money, so I never got around to purchasing my pre-apocalyptic, ass-kicking jacket.

Until now.  Because, fortunately, the jacket I have described is pretty popular in Paris, even in July.  Thanks to the Soldes (the biannual sales), the previously unobtainable jacket has now been obtained.

My awesome new jacket, as it turns out, is ideal for shooting terminators, protecting your messianic son, preserving hope for humankind in an apocalyptic future, and walking around Paris eating crepes, drinking wine, and looking at art.

Renoir, if you don't start making better art, I will blow. you. away.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Super Bon Bon

Oh yeah.  And I also saw the Arc de Triomphe today.

Little-known Napoleon quote: "Move aside, and let the man go through."
It's big, it's bad, it's Napoleonic.  Tourists like to take pictures of themselves doing odd things in front of it.   There are alot of things I could tell you about it.  Art historical things, like how Napoleon commissioned it, but then Waterloo happened, and then a whole bunch of political stuff went down, and then sculptors of varying quality put some reliefs on it (Please note.  One relief is clearly superior.  Correct answer is the one you see on the right in the picture above.  It is by François Rude, and it is pretty good.  Should you ever be quizzed on which relief is best, please say that one, because otherwise, I will judge you.)  I could tell you some general things, like about how nice the view is when you come down the Champs Elysées, or how the Tour de France ends here.  I could talk about its historical predecessors (the Romans, of course) or about how, like everything else in Paris, it is way bigger in person than you think it is.  I could tell you some personal things about it, like how I remember seeing it on my first trip to Paris with my college friend Karen or about how Jay and I plotted a run that would take him past the Madeleine, the Opéra, the Vendôme Column, and finally, all Roman-Emperor-style to the Arc de Triomphe before running back home again.

But actually, what I want to talk about is how when you are looking at the Arc de Triomphe, if you turn around, you see this:

Backyard bonbon.
What the hell is this??  Why is there what looks to be a giant sculpture of candy in somebody's backyard???

Further investigation warrants this question:  Why the hell does the Qatar Embassy have a giant sculpture of candy in its backyard?!?!

Should you actually want the answer, go here.  The answer is actually pretty cool.  Should you want to continue living with the mystery, that is fine.  Just be sure that before you get interrogated about the best relief on the Arc de Triomphe, you turn around and check out the bonbon.

p.s. I would like some credit for avoiding another relief pun.  Thanks.

p.p.s.  All credit should be rescinded for my taking both my title and two photo captions from 1996.

Oh what a relief it is

Today I made a four-mile jaunt down to see a Dalou work that has a decent amount of both personal and professional significance for me--his Monument to Alphand of 1899, on Avenue Foch.  I have some particular fondness for it, as it took me to Chicago twice in order to present a paper on it.  Not only did I have a great time in Chicago, first with Jack, then by myself, but presenting at the Art Institute of Chicago is a rare moment in my art historical career that I actually have a bit of pride about.

Monument to Alphand:  Totally less boring in person.
I am fairly convinced that this was a particularly important monument for Dalou, in that I believe it epitomizes what he was trying to do with monumental sculpture.  As such, this work counts pretty emphatically in my dissertation.  For the dissertation to work, I really need this sculpture to do a lot for me, in terms of how it functions stylistically, and how it relates to Dalou's other work, and to that of his contemporaries.  Fortunately, when I saw it, I bought my own thoughts about it.  This is always a relief when you see a sculpture you've only thought about and studied, but never actually seen [Including my title, this is my second subtle and bad pun on the word "relief."  See that wall of hard to see marble stuff?  That's relief sculpture, and, ummm, yeah.  It is a sculpture joke.  Not funny.  Ok.  Won't you be relieved when I stop making them?  ha ha. . .  Yeah.  Never mind.).  At any rate, I like it quite a bit more than I thought I would, and am actually more convinced of its merit and importance in terms of turn-of-the-century public sculpture than ever.  Hip hip hooray.
Opéra Garnier.  Gilt. House.
As always, my trip to the Alphand involved the requisite number of distractions and side trips.  As I've been here for a couple of weeks now, I've become more accustomed to things within a certain radius around me, so my trips are somewhat condensed and more purposeful.  Opéra Garnier?  Seen it, moving on.  This is only partially true.  There are still some things, the Opéra an excellent case in point, that I am still pretty blown away every time I see them.  However, there comes a point where you can't gawk at everything every time you see it, because Paris is simply so full of stuff that you otherwise couldn't go anywhere without it taking 6 hours (it's happened) or your brain exploding.  It is no wonder the Parisians no longer see their own city, because otherwise they wouldn't get anything done.  It is still weird, at times, though, that modern life happens around monuments so grand, and rich, and historically deep.  The Opéra was built during the French Second Empire, a time of high glamor and opulence (putting giant gilt things on top of your buildings is always good indication of that).  And yet, people obviously live normal, 21st century lives around this thing.  It is a popular place for street performers and people to hang out in front of, so in order to better reproduce my experience at the Opéra today, you should really be listening to this.  Kinda weird, right?
I am even less great at Medieval art than I am at Contemporary Art, and I occasionally have an equally bad (or worse) attitude about it.  I never get tired of looking at church architecture though, and because I'm not knowledgeable about Parisian medieval architecture, I am consistently stumbling into great churches that are surprises to me.  St. Augustin might be my favorite surprise church (that I should have known about, but didn't).  Both exterior and interior were really beautiful, and it had an absolutely gorgeous dome suspended over a row of stained glass windows.  And it had an equestrian of Joan of Arc out front.

St. Augustin and Ste. Jean.
There is nothing, however, like a bad sculpture to help you realize what good sculpture looks like.  I find that the characteristic of "ass-kicking" or perhaps "badass-ness" are both useful litmus tests for the quality of equestrians, and the Joan of Arc in the Place St. Augustin gets soundly trounced by Frémiet's in the Place des Pyramides in this regard.  Why, oh why, Paul Dubois, did you stick Joan onto that horse as if she was a He-Man action figure unsuccessfully riding a My Little Pony?  You are fired.
My big sister could take on both Joans.  At the same time.

Sometimes it is hard reconciling what you know as a historian with what you feel as a human being.  Point in fact:  I know that the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States, and that various casts of her exist in various locations throughout the city of Paris.  But damn is it weird every time.  The Statue of Liberty was actually a product of the late nineteenth century, and she is an incredibly interesting counterpoint to Dalou's figure of the Republic atop his Triumph.  My advisor, during one of my PhD qualifying exams no less, asked for comparative material for the Dalou Republic figure, and it sure was awhile before it occurred to me:  OH! You mean the colossal statue on an island off the coast of my own damn country.  Right.  Unfortunately it is hard to remember that in art history, the State of Liberty does not equal a quality tourist attraction and symbol of American democracy but rather an example of a classicizing liberty figure borrowing from the same iconographic tradition as Dalou's figure of the Republic.  And sometimes you run across her when you are walking around Paris.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Le Bon, le mal, et le moche

In addition to researching, and in addition to sight-seeing and wandering around like a slack-jawed tourist (in researching I mostly sit around like a slack-jawed moron), being in Paris has also included the matter-of-fact necessities of just living in a new place. In these first couple of weeks of living the Parisian life, I have found that many things are quite great (to either my expectation or surprise), while others are surprisingly disappointing, bad, or just strange.  So here, for your perusal, are some culinary ouis and nons of my Parisian life so far.



The mere thought of eating bread in America again fills me with dread.  It is actually true that the Parisians walk around carrying baguettes of bread, sometimes with the top nibbled off, because sometimes it is so warm and inviting when you get it, that you can't help but have a little snack.  I have my choice of a number of boulangeries within 5 minutes of my apartment and not only do they sell bread, but also marvelous little pastries as well.   It is great, because not only can I say "une baguette, s'il vous plaît" with the best of them, but then you get to go home and eat some baguette.  It is great all around.

Me and my baguette, being all Parisienne.

There is a chance I am drinking way too much wine.  But hey, when you are alone and researching, and your only companions are a blog, some French tv, and a bottle of wine, you start getting pretty cozy with the bottle of wine.   Though my unrefined palate (see below) struggles with differentiating between cheap and expensive bottles of wine, I am still pretty sure you can get a good bottle of wine here for less than a couple of euros.  And that is pretty great.


Hello my name is Jen and I love French butter.  Two factors are at play here.  1) French butter is truly better than American butter.  That is a fact.  Did you know that the French have different types of butter?  And that one of these butters has bits of salt in it?  AMAZING!!   2) In America, being all health conscious and such, I don't really eat butter.  In France, I tend to do as the French do, and therefore have picked up a number of French habits, such as butter-eating.  In addition, walking numerous miles a day means that I am burning up extraordinary amounts of calories.  As a result, I am actually losing weight while my diet consists primarily of wine, butter, and bread.  Should I come back to Columbus and gain 50 pounds, it will be because I have no doubt convinced myself that butter is a diet food.


I don't know what it is, but French pizza is particularly delicious, once you can work past the cultural barriers to order it.  Jay and I wanted to stay in one night, but still wanted to experience some French restaurant culture, so we decided to find some pizza à emporter (carry out).  Thankfully, one of the waitresses there took pity on my paltry French, and worked us through the procedure in English.  Pizza (at least at this particular establishment) is ordered by weight, rather than slices.  We might have stood there all night asking for a couple of slices of pizza, while the waitress kept asking us in frustration to just tell us how much pizza we wanted.  Next time, I will walk in confidently, and order a couple hundred grams of pizza.  Pas de problem.



Allow me to clarify.  It is not that French cheese is bad (it is absolutely not), but rather that as an uninformed consumer, going to the fromagerie is dangerous business.  Prior to coming to Paris, I would have believed my palate able to withstand the strongest of tastes.  After all, I live on black coffee and was one of the primary instigators (you know who you are [Brady]) of the infamous Christmas Mushroom Incident.  Nope.  I am a cheese wuss.  I really wish I could adore cheese that smells vaguely (or entirely) of bodily excrement, but that cultured I am not.


The French are not stupid.  They put all their energies in some places (bread, wine, cheese, etc.) and have left the rest to outsourcing.  Why brew beer when the Belgians, Dutch, and Germans are so good at it?  A pression (draft beer) at the café after a hot Parisian day is an incredible delight, but only when the beer isn't French.


First of all, anybody who has worked at a coffee shop for numerous months is going to have some serious trouble adapting to the civilian lifestyle.  What do you mean I don't have access to unlimited espresso every day????  Coffee at a café in France is alright, but those euros add up.  When you can buy a decent bottle of wine (see above) for around the same price as a coffee (i.e. an espresso), you start watching your café euros fairly carefully.  At home, you can make Nescafe or drip coffee.  Despite the name "French" press, I do not actually have one, so I have been making my drip coffee with a coffee pot and some Commerce Equitable (Far Trade) coffee.  I don't know what it is (but I know it isn't me), but that coffee just ain't good.  Maybe it is the water, maybe it is the lack of freshly ground beans, but it just isn't not working for me.  Thus--I drink mostly Nescafe every day.  I work at a Fair Trade Coffee Shop and I am drinking instant coffee every day.  That is some screwed up merde right there, mes amis.  When I get home, I am going to hit Global Gallery Coffee Shop so fast it will make your head spin.